Category: Grammar notes


Curse of the apostrophe

Once more I ponder the age-old question: what is it about apostrophes that so many people fail to understand?

I am wading my way through a book edit in which two-thirds of the corrections require the deletion, placement or shifting of an apostrophe.

In case you are among the perplexed masses, apostrophes do not denote a plural, as in: lots of comments’.

However, we could do with one in: the mans comments. But not placed thus: the mans’ comments.

Oh dear. I will soldier on …

Words … but what do they mean?

The following extract is from a manuscript I was recently asked to assess for publication:

‘All right, I’ll see to changing that, might take a while.’ Eleanor continued with her agenda. ‘Now, what about Security? Personnel? Industrial Relations? Safety?’
‘Hey, we need those.’ Arthur made a note. ‘Security and Safety have been the contractor’s problem up till now, I’ve been handling I-R recently, and we’ve done our own recruiting, but I remember, what was suggested was that we should use Site Services for Personnel and I-R, . . . oh, yes, we have had to refer to them a while ago for minor problems, but I’d rather continue independently if possible . . . can you fix that, too?’
‘If you want it that way. Gerry won’t like it, but hell, you’re supposed to be separate. Stay that way, but leave it open so you can use his people if you need to.’
‘Thanks for that. I guess we can use them for Safety, that’s just a matter of processing forms. Well, we hope. But Security . . . ‘ he paused.
‘Do it yourself,’ Eleanor advised. ‘Hire one man per shift, from an external service company, on the gate. The company can report to the Office Manager, that’s you, isn’t it, Joy? Now, what about the one item you seem to have forgotten.’ She waited a moment for dramatic effect. ‘Where does Quality Control fit? Under Production?’

So many words, so many commas and trailing points. But what does it all mean? And would you want to read 270 pages of such writing? It is sad to see so much effort being expended to such little effect. So few would-be authors understand that writing consists of much more than an outpouring of words. It is a craft that has to be studied and learned.

Varuna’s bloomer

“As the world moved from depression into war, they built a glorious yellow house that faced north so that it’s rooms were flooded with light.”
Such mis-use of the blighted apostrophe is sadly becoming the norm. The shocking thing about this instance is that it comes from, of all places, Varuna, the Blue Mountains bastion of all that is excellent in writing.

Apostrophe apoplexy

Surely the biggest crime against correct grammar is that committed by the apostrophe bandits – those people who seem unable to grasp the simple difference between a plural and a possessive.
We seem to have become inured to a world of signs proclaming CD’s, DVD’s and Todays’ Special.
Today’s Daily Telegraph, however, piled horror upon horror by publishing a letter that included “…my mother, as doctors’s wives so often did …”
Can it get any worse? Sadly I fear it can.

Double entendre

It all depends on how to read it, but the headline in today’s UK Daily Telegraph was not the best example of the sub editor’s craft: Husband flies to South Africa to help murder police
Let’s hope they arrested him before he did any damage.

Hanging with Hamer

The hanging modifier scourge continues in The Age.
Today, Robin Usher writes about Hamer Hall: “Previously only accessible from St Kilda Road, a second entrance by the Yarra River is also part of the redesign”.
It is the hall that was “previously only accessible from St Kilda Road”, not the unbuilt second entrance.
Where are the sub-editors when you need them?

Another hanging offence

From The Age today: “Despite handing over cash, the man stunned the IT consultant about five times ….”
No, the man who did the stunning did not hand over cash – but that’s how it reads.
Another hanging modifier uncorrected by the writer or the subs. Or maybe they just don’t understand.

Hanging horror

The dreaded hanging modifier is spreading. A frequent blot on TV news reports, it today appeared in the Age sport section.
According to writer Jesse Hogan (and the sub-editors who let it through) “After posting a paltry 8-133, Sri Lanka coasted past the target with seven wickets and 21 balls to spare thanks to masterful captain Kumar Sangakara ….”
What should have appeared is “After Australia posted a paltry 8-133, Sri Lanka coasted etc …”
Much better than the nonsense that was published.

Rankin’s rules

It is what I have always said and aimed to achieve, but it is encouraging to hear it from the lips of one of the world’s best crime writers. Scottish writer Ian Rankin, reported in the Daily Telegraph, has told The Word magazine he sees himself as an entertainer rather than as a wordsmith.
“We’re not winning Nobel prizes for books that are difficult to read or written in an ornate language,” Rankin said. “Writers like me are part of the entertainment industry.”
Rankin said he had dumbed down the language of his books after his first novel, The Flood, which he reckoned read like the work of a PhD student – which is what he was at the time.
The author said there were words in The Flood which he doesn’t understand. “In thrillers there is very little room for purple prose.”
Rankin’s advice is that “the style has got to be invisible. If something jars, or if a phrase is too flowery, suddenly the reader is aware that someone is writing a book.”
Amen to all of that.

Spelt rite

There was a time when research meant doing some really thorough investigation and examining all facets of the topic at hand. Now anything entailing a snap poll of a dozen or more people is labelled as research. Thus we get some odd findings from small samplings.
One such finding comes from OnePoll.com, which has “revealed” that the most commonly misspelt word in the English language is separate. In second place is definitely, followed by manoeuvre and embarrass.
So what happened to my personal favourite, accommodation, and that confusing pair, occasion and occurrence?
No doubt everyone has their own spelling stumbling block and this is a far from conclusive finding: it is based on talking to a mere 3500 people. Go figure.